A communications satellite was destroyed today when its booster rocket exploded in a fireball during lift-off from a converted oil rig in the Pacific Ocean. Sea Launch, the operator of the Boeing-built Zenit rocket, said no one was hurt. Damage to the launch's platform was not yet known.
A commercial NSS 8 satellite, owned by SES New Skies of the Netherlands, was equipped with nearly 100 transponders for high-speed internet, broadcasting and other services. The rocket ws fully fuelled with kerosene and liquid oxygen when it exploded.
California-based Sea Launch is a partnership of Boeing of the United States, Russia's RSC-Energia, Aker ASA of Norway and SDO Yuznoye/PO Yuzhmash of Ukraine. SES New Skies is a unit of European satellite giant SES Global. Today's launch from the equator in the Pacific would have been Sea Launch's 24th since its debut in 1999.
The company had one previous failure of its Zenit model, when a mobile communications satellite was lost in March 2000 due to a valve problem in the rocket's second stage. SES New Skies said it was not prepared to comment on potential causes of the mission's failure and was waiting for the results of an investigation.
The launch was being broadcast on the internet but the transmission was cut off as a fireball enveloped the platform, Spaceflightnow.com reported.